The End of Windows XP? Part 1

Microsoft_XP_support_endingIf you follow technology news at all or you have techie-minded friends, you are probably aware that in just a little over a month Microsoft will formally end support of Windows XP. However, if you’re like most people, you really have no idea what that means. Some people believe they must buy a new computer because their old one will suddenly stop working. If you listen to some technology experts or even some of your friends talking, they’re warning you of the dire consequences that could happen if you keep trying to use your old PC. Business owners are being bombarded by notices from technology vendors warning them of the impending Windows XP end of support date. And of course, Microsoft desperately wants everyone to buy a new PC with Windows 8, as their sales are seriously struggling. As I’m sure you’re confused by all the information flying around (heck, I’ve been a little confused at times myself), let me try to explain the situation to you so that you can be fully prepared.

The first step is to understand exactly what end of support means – and what it doesn’t. Please understand that computers running Windows XP WILL continue to work. No matter what rumors you’ve heard, computers with Windows XP are not going to suddenly stop working on April 8th. If you believed this was the case, breathe easy! You can continue using your old Windows XP PC long after April 8th – assuming your computer hardware keeps working of course! So you can put on hold any emergency plans you had to run out and buy a new computer. Keep reading, however, because there is much you should be aware of.

The real meaning of Windows XP end of support is two-fold. First, Microsoft will no longer provide technical support for Windows XP. Second, Microsoft will stop providing updates to the operating system.

Microsoft no longer providing technical support for Windows XP means that end-users and business can no longer call or request support for Windows XP directly from Microsoft. For most people, this means absolutely nothing. This is because most people do not receive support directly from Microsoft anyway. Usually, most people get support from the company that sold them their computer, whether this is a big-box store like Best Buy, a direct sales company like Dell, or a local PC shop. Or they would get support from their own IT staff or an independent technology professional – like me! About the only people who get support directly from Microsoft are big corporations with dedicated account representatives. So again, for most people, not having support directly from Microsoft is no different than what they’re used to now. So don’t worry about Microsoft not providing support for Windows XP. You will likely still be able to get support from the same people you get support from now – or from many other resources in the future. Myself personally, I will continue to support people and businesses with Windows XP because I know that Windows XP isn’t going to disappear any time soon. So I have no need to stop supporting it and will continue to do so as long as my clients require it.

Some people confuse the idea of no support for Windows XP with no support for the software that runs on top of Windows XP. In most cases, the two support mechanisms are completely independent. Companies that create software for Windows have no need to discontinue support for their software running on Windows XP simply because Microsoft has stopped supporting the underlying operating system. Windows XP still runs on 30% of the world’s installed computers base. Software vendors aren’t going to ignore a 30% marketshare at this time. You will need to check with your software vendors to be sure if they will continue to support and develop your important programs for the near future. But again, don’t worry that your software will suddenly stop working. Remember, April 8th isn’t a “kill switch” day for Windows XP nor any software that runs on it. However, you should be aware of what the future will hold for your software, so be sure to get informed.

What should be concerning to Windows XP users is the fact that Microsoft will stop developing updates to the operating system. Come April 8th, any undiscovered security issues that exist in Windows XP will never be patched. Any bugs that crop up will never be squashed. This is something to keep in mind as you move forward with Windows XP. However, the sky will not fall on April 8th or at any time in the near future. Just because Microsoft will stop developing security patches for Windows XP, doesn’t mean that Windows XP will instantly become vulnerable. It doesn’t mean that computers will suddenly become buggy and start crashing. It just means that future issues won’t be resolved. But given the age of Windows XP, the incidence of world-altering security issues and bugs in the operating system are fairly low. More common are issues in software programs that run on top of Windows XP, such as web browsers, Adobe Flash, or Java. Those programs will continue to receive updates to resolve security issues and bugs in the near future. So don’t listen to those people who claim the sky is falling when it comes to Windows XP. Sure, it’s potentially vulnerable, but the reality is that Windows as an operating system has always been somewhat vulnerable. So if you are fairly secure now, you’ll continue to be for the near future.

Given what I’ve said so far, it would seem that the end of support for Windows XP is a bit overblown. To some extent it is. However, it is a significant event that you should be aware of. Come April 8th, you alone will be responsible for keeping up with any potential serious issues that are discovered with Windows XP. While I don’t predict that anything significant would occur, if something does come up that threatens your data or privacy, you will need to deal with it somehow. Microsoft isn’t going to release an update that will automatically plug a security hole for you anymore. Most people don’t pay attention to technology news. But if you’re going to keep running Windows XP, it would do good for you to keep at least an ear open to any news concerning issues with Windows XP. Or have someone that you can trust to keep you informed – like me! If nothing else, make sure to subscribe to my e-mail newsletter or follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn. A little information can go a long way.

Now that you have the straight scoop on the end of support for Windows XP, there are some specific things that you should do over the next few weeks to be ready for April 8th. Some of you may also be wondering if it is the right time to buy a new computer. I will cover these issues in the next part of this article, which I will post within the next week. Also if you have any specific questions regarding the future of Windows XP, or migrating your existing Windows XP computer to a new computer, please let me know. I’ll answer you directly as well as answer those questions in a future article.